When studying a biblical passage or preparing sermon, I look at the passage I am studying on two different levels. The textual level which deals with the immediate text, and the covenantal level which deals with the big story of the Bible. This can also be called the canonical level, the theological level, or the redemptive-historical level. Whatever you call it, it involves placing the text in the great context of all of Scripture.
The textual level places the reader squarely in the text at hand and deals with the characters, dialogue, places, concepts, grammar, logic, etc of the immediate text. At this level, the interpreter looks at the immediate context and traces the narrative or the author’s flow of thought.
The covenantal level lifts the reader up to a higher altitude to see the larger picture of Scripture and how the current text fits into the grand narrative of the Bible’s story. This level deals less with grammar and syntax, and more with theology and context. This level will connect the interpreter with the cross in some way and perhaps more broadly, to creation and consummation.
For me, it is helpful to briefly consider the covenantal level first. This sets the Scripture in its larger context and allows me to see where we’ve been and where we are heading and how this passage relates to the big motifs of Scripture. Second, I look in detail at the textual level, considering only what is at hand. This allows me to see how the various elements of the passage work together to tell a story that stands on its own. Third, I zoom back out after gleaning all the immediate passage has to offer and see how these newly discovered insights further relate to the rest of Scripture.